Stenhouse tops final practice at Darlington

Image by John K. Harrelson/LAT

Stenhouse tops final practice at Darlington

NASCAR

Stenhouse tops final practice at Darlington

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. needed just one lap to jump to the top of the leaderboard in final NASCAR Cup Series practice at Darlington.

Stenhouse led the way Friday afternoon at 168.845 mph (29.125 seconds). His quickest lap was the first of the 34 he ran in the session.

Kyle Larson was second quick at 168.764 mph while William Byron was third quick at 168.480 mph. Kurt Busch, 168.261 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto, 168.250 mph, filled out the top five.

The rest of the top 10 were Brad Keselowski at 168.238 mph, Martin Truex Jr. at 168.209 mph, Denny Hamlin at 168.152 mph, Joey Logano at 167.980 mph, and Alex Bowman at 167.888 mph.

Keselowski, Hamlin, and Truex are the last three winners of the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington.

Aric Almirola was 13th fastest (167.727 mph), but is going to a backup car. Almirola hit the wall in final practice and damaged the right side of his Ford Mustang. He will also have to start in the rear of the field.

“I just made a mistake, I guess,” said Almirola. “The car got loose coming back down the hill in Turn 2 and jumped out from under me, and there’s not a lot of room for error there. Even when you do everything perfect, you exit right up against the fence the momentum and everything and how fast we’re going back down the hill so when the car bobbles like that and you take a little more racetrack to the exit, there’s not that much room. I hate it.

“The guys brought me a really, really fast Smithfield Ford Mustang. I was looking forward to this weekend, this is really cool paint scheme to honor the boss, Tony (Stewart), and was looking forward to coming here and just having a under the radar weekend, go run top 15 and put ourselves in position to go to Indy and be locked in or comfortable and go there and have fun, and nothing’s been easy lately. The last month, it’s been a struggle they say bad things come in threes – I wrecked at Michigan, wrecked at Bristol, wrecked here, so hopefully, it’s over.”

With 61 laps completed in final practice, Logano ran the most of any driver.

In the best 10 consecutive lap average it was Larson fastest over Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Truex, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Logano.

UP NEXT: Qualifying at 2:05 p.m. ET Saturday.

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